Sockeye salmon are returning to the Columbia River at numbers far higher than predicted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, bringing expanded fishing opportunities this summer.
According to the WDFW, the committee that forecasts and monitors salmon and steelhead returns to the Columbia River initially predicted around 198,000 sockeye salmon ahead of the season.
However, through June 29, the number exceeded expectations, with nearly 344,000 sockeye salmon counted at the Bonneville Dam — the highest count in the past 10 years, according to a news release.
This has led the committee to more than double its forecast to 426,000 returning sockeye salmon.
As a result, fishery managers determined that sockeye fishing can open, starting July 1, on portions of the lower Columbia River, and daily fishing limits may also increase in certain areas.
“The higher-than-expected return is welcome news, both for the health of the sockeye population and for anglers throughout the Columbia,” WDFW fish biologist Quinten Daugherty said in a statement. “We’ll continue monitoring the return closely to make sure we’re meeting our conservation goals. But we’re optimistic that there will be significantly more opportunity to fish for sockeye in much of the river this summer.”
There will also be an additional 13 days for fishing of Chinook salmon, and the WDFW expects Lake Wenatchee to have surplus fish available for harvest in late July or early August.
Sockeye fishing on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers also opened July 1. For more details about daily limits along the Columbia River, visit st.news/ColumbiaFishing.
In Seattle, though, the sockeye run has hit record lows in recent years. There hasn’t been a fishery on Lake Washington sockeye since 2006, with the signature fish on the brink of extinction. And with only about 3,500 passing up the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks through June 30, this Lake Washington sockeye return is on track to be the smallest in a half-century.
With so few fish returning, local biologists launched a plan, dubbed Operation BLAST — for Ballard Locks Adult Salmon Transfer — to drive the fish, by truck, from the Locks to the Cedar River headwaters area.
Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.